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Betty Lou Driver, retired physical therapist

Betty Lou Driver, whose struggle with ceregral palsy served as an inspiration to otherts, died July 30.
Betty Lou Driver, whose struggle with ceregral palsy served as an inspiration to otherts, died July 30.(HANDOUT)

Betty Lou Driver, a retired Kennedy Krieger Institute physical therapist whose life with cerebral palsy served as an inspiration to children similarly afflicted, died July 30 from respiratory failure at Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va.

The longtime Elkridge resident was 87.

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Betty Lou Driver was born in Harrisonburg, Va., to Julian Driver, a bus driver, and Frances Driver, a social worker. The lived on the family farm before moving to Cumberland during the Great Depression.

Miss Driver, who had cerebral palsy from birth, had been "labeled feeble-minded and diagnosed as never being able to walk," reported The Baltimore Sun in a 1971 profile.

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"Her parents were told to institutionalize her and put her away in a mental hospital," said a niece, Mary Driver-Downs of Fairfax, Va.

She and her parents received little encouragement until the Allegany County League for Crippled Children in Cumberland told them about Dr. Winthrop E. Phelps, founder and director of the Children's Rehabilitation Institute in Cockeysville. It relocated to Reisterstown in 1954.

Miss Driver was 5 when she and her parents met Dr. Phelps. She became a patient at his clinic in 1937.

"Dr. Phelps told my parents that I was definitely not retarded," Miss Driver recalled in a 1977 interview with The Evening Sun. "He said that if I had proper treatment, I would be able to lead a normal life by the time I was 18."

After nine months of working with Dr. Phelps, she was so improved that she was able to return to Cumberland and enter the second grade.

"She had learned to walk on her own," her niece said. "That nine months with Dr. Phelps changed the entire trajectory of her life."

Miss Driver often said Dr. Phelps was "the greatest doctor I have ever known. He saw hope in me when no other doctor did."

She graduated Allegany High School in 1947 while continuing to receive physical therapy.

"It wasn't always easy," she told The Sun. "I had many wonderful friends, but small children can be so cruel, and some made fun of me."

She said her parents gave her the encouragement, determination and self-respect needed to carry on in the face of taunts and jokes.

"I remember the day when I realized I was different from other children. I went to my mother and asked her why," Miss Driver said in the 1977 article. "My mother told me that she would not love me any more if I were a normal child.

"If I said to her, 'I can't do this,' she would answer, 'Why not? You're not crippled.' That was a wonderful incentive ro me. She taught me that I had something to give," she said. "I wasn't babied. I was treated as one of the family, and that's one of the most important things that parents of a handicapped child has to learn."

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Miss Driver attended Madison College in Harrisonburg, now James Madison University, and lived in a regular dormitory with other students. She obtained a bachelor's degree in psychology.

"I wanted to help other children as much as I had been helped," she told The Sun.

Miss Driver entered the physical therapy program at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond and earned a certificate in physical therapy.

In 1955, she began working for Dr. Phelps as a medical staff member. She called the experience "one of my fondest dreams come true. Dr Phelps did so much for me, now it's my turn, I can do something for handicapped people — and I am."

The Children's Institute was taken over by Kennedy Krieger in 1967, and Miss Driver continued working as a physical therapist. Her work focused in teaching children how to walk and related activities such as going up and down ramps, steps and curbs.

Susan E. Harryman, director of physical therapy for 36 years before retiring in 1997 from Kennedy Krieger, was Miss Driver's boss.

"She was very dedicated to the work and she just loved the children and they loved her," Ms. Harryman said. "She was very inspiring and they were very interested that she did things by herself and wanted no help. They appreciated how hard she worked with them.

"She was tough and held everyone to high standards," her niece said.

Miss Driver credited her sense of humor and religious faith with helping her accept cerebral palsy, which affected her speech and gait.

"When people misunderstand you, you just have to laugh about it. You cannot feel sorry for yourself," she told The Sun. "Faith is a strong part of me, though I'm not fanatic. My religious training has helped me understand life, people and myself."

"I never heard her once complain about her disability," Ms. Harryman said.

She failed the driver's test several times, but finally passed and received her license.

"She drove a regular car and it wasn't handicapped-equipped," her niece said. "She purchased her first car and named it 'George.' She and 'George' had many adventures traveling and visiting family and friends throughout Virginia and Maryland."

Miss Driver retired in 1986.

For years, Miss Driver lived in the Marylander Apartments on St. Paul Street, not far from University Baptist Church, where she was a longtime member, Sunday School treasurer and active participant in the Women's Missions.

She relished her independent lifestyle. She traveled to Europe several times, was an avid bridge player and devoted Orioles fan. She enjoyed crab cakes.

"She never met a crab cake that she didn't love," her niece said.

She wrote poetry, and a collection of her works, "Love Deeply," includes:

"There will always be a song for those who want to sing,

There will always be a need for those who want to give,

There will always be a prayer for those who want to pray,

There will always be a lesson for those who want to learn,

There will always be a mountain for those who want to climb."

In addition to poetry, Miss Driver wrote an autobiography in 1993, "We Can Win," which aimed to encourage parents of children with disabilities.

"I realize that my handicap has denied me certain things, but it has also given me much happiness just to be able to live and to be able to give and to be part of life," she said in The Sun article. "Handicapped people are usually happier than normal people because they learn to appreciate what they have and recognize their limitations."

A memorial service for Miss Driver will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 at her church, 3501 N. Charles St.

In addition to her niece, she is survived by a brother, Wayne Driver of Berryville, Va.; three nephews; and two other nieces.

An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect time for Miss Driver's memorial service. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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